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Mexico levies higher tariffs on U.S. imports

The move, part of a cross-border trucking dispute, affects $2.4 billion worth of exports from 40 U.S. states.

March 19, 2009|Ken Ellingwood

MEXICO CITY — Mexico on Wednesday announced higher tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of imports from the United States in retaliation for the U.S. government's decision to end a program allowing some Mexican trucks on America's highways.

The list of 89 products includes toilet paper, Christmas trees, fruit juices, pet food, shampoo, sunflower seeds, soy sauce, pencils, beer and deodorant.

The tariffs, listed in the Mexican government's daily record, range from 10% to 45%. Affected products come from 40 states, but represent less than 2% of U.S. exports to Mexico.

As Mexico made clear its unhappiness over the trucking issue, White House officials announced that President Obama would visit next month. The April 16-17 trip will be Obama's first to Mexico as president.

A U.S. announcement said Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon would meet "to discuss the deep and comprehensive U.S.-Mexico relationship, including how the United States and Mexico can work together to support Mexico's fight against drug-related violence and work toward effective, comprehensive immigration reform."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to visit Mexico next week, and the trucking flap seems likely to be on the agenda, alongside security issues related to Mexico's drug war.

Mexico maintains that the United States violated the North American Free Trade Agreement by ending a pilot program that allowed a limited number of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways beyond the border area. The U.S. Senate ended funding last week when it excluded the program from a $410-billion spending bill.

"We consider this action to be wrong, protectionist and clearly in violation of the treaty," Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos said this week when he warned that Mexico would retaliate.

Mexican trucks traditionally have been permitted only along a narrow strip north of the border to transfer cargo to U.S. trucks. Citing safety concerns, the Teamsters union and some lawmakers from both parties oppose giving the vehicles wider access.

Mexican officials contend that Mexican trucks and drivers proved they were reliable under the pilot program, which began two years ago.

In announcing the list of U.S. imports facing higher tariffs, Mexico cited the failure "to reach a mutually satisfactory solution" to the trucking disagreement.

The tariffs appeared designed to pressure Congress and union critics by hitting products from a wide number of states. An official in Mexico's Economy Ministry was quoted in news reports as saying the list could be expanded if the dispute is not resolved.

The White House had said it would seek a new cross-border trucking program.

Cross-border trucking is a long-standing bone of contention since the two countries signed the 1993 trade agreement, known as NAFTA.

During the Bush administration, the two nations agreed to allow a limited number of trucks from each to travel beyond the border zone. Mexican officials said 103 trucks from 26 Mexican carriers experienced no significant problems under the test program.

But critics may find it easier to raise safety concerns after a Mexican big-rig truck crashed into a bus in northern Mexico this week, killing seven Americans, three Canadians and the Mexican bus driver. Officials said the truck driver appeared to have been driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Associated Press.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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